Know Your Bible
A Comprehensive Analysis of the Psalms
Dr. W. Graham Scroggie
These studies are not written for the scholar, nor to promote scholarship, but for the general reader, and to quicken devotion, though, it is hoped, the scholar will find the studies stimulating.
Attention is called to the following features:
An attempt is made by the arrangement of the text, to indicate to some extent the principle of parallelism so characteristic of Hebrew poetry. The paragraphing is intended to show the main divisions of each Psalm; and speeches within a Psalm, by one or more voices, are shown in italic print.
Superscriptions and subscriptions are preserved, with here and there a word of interpretation. The theory of Dr. J. W. Thirtle has been followed throughout, namely, that many superscriptions should be the subscriptions to the preceding Psalms, and these have been so arranged.
Further details will be found in the Introduction.
Each Psalm has a Title, and at the end a Thought which is designed to fix in the mind the main lesson of the Psalm. To each is added a note which relates the Psalm to some incident in Christian story. The Exposition aims, as far as is practicable within its limits, at giving interpretative, homiletical, and devotional help.
The acrostic Psalms are shown by the Hebrew alphabet in the left-hand margin.
The verse numbers are arranged in a straight line on the left, and are not allowed to interfere with the poetic form of the Psalm.
All references to Deity, both by name and pronoun, have the initial letters in capital type and this, in several places, has an interpretative value.
It is hoped that these several features combined may help to make the reading and study of the Psalms more interesting and profitable.
A Psalm of David
Title: Integrity Within and Without
1 I will sing of mercy and judgment:
Unto Thee, O Lord, will I sing.
2 I will behave myself wisely in a perfect way.
O when wilt Thou come unto me?
I will walk within my house with a perfect heart.
3 I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes:
I hate the work of them that turn aside;
It shall not cleave to me.
4 A froward heart shall depart from me:
I will not know a wicked person.
5 Whoso privily slandereth his neighbour,
Him will I cut off:
Him that hath an high look and a proud heart
Will not I suffer.
6 Mine eyes shall be upon the faithful of the land,
That they may dwell with me:
He that walketh in a perfect way,
He shall serve me.
7 He that worketh deceit
Shall not dwell within my house:
He that telleth lies
Shall not tarry in my sight.
8 I will early destroy
All the wicked of the land;
That I may cut off all wicked doers
From the city of the Lord.
The title of this Psalm attributes it to David, and there is no good reason for calling this into question. We may safely assume that David wrote it at the beginning of his reign, and at the time when he had resolved to bring the Sacred Ark to Jerusalem from the house of Obed-edom (2 Sam. 6:1-15). He had said: “How shall the ark of the Lord come unto me?” (2 Sam. 6:9); and here he says: “O when wilt Thou come unto me?” (2). As by iniquity the Ark had been absent from the royal city, so only by righteousness could it be replaced. On such a course David resolves. This is indicated by the recurrence of “will” nine times, and of “shall” six times, and this decision is made in dependence upon the Lord.
The Psalm is in two main parts (1-4, 5-8); the first being personal, and the second, relative; the first, relating to the king’s heart and home, and the second, to his court and city. First that which is within; then, that which is without. First what is private; then, what is public. First attention must be given to oneself; and then to others. This is the true and inevitable order. There cannot be a pure Court where there is a corrupt King; and no ruler can require that of his people which he declines to exhibit in his own person. If we would promote integrity around us, we must cultivate it within us. The home is the foundation of the State, and the heart is the basis of the throne. A true life is the noblest law.
Each of the two stanzas is divisible into two parts of two verses each, as follows:
- The King (1-4):
- His personal desire (1, 2);
- His relative determination (3, 4).
- The Kingdom (5-8):
- The citizens must be worthy (5, 6);
- The centre must be clean (7, 8).
Stanza 1.—Heart and Home (1-4).
The themes of David’s song are “the two mutually tempering modes of behaviour which God requires of every man,” kindness and justice, love and law (Mic. 6:8); and with these themes he will “sweep the strings.” He has chosen for himself a perfect way and a perfect heart (2). What is wrong he will not contemplate, but hate, and if any evil person enters his house he will shake him off, as Paul did the snake (3). A perverse heart shall not dwell with him whose standard is a perfect heart (2, 4). What a man is in his heart is what always matters. The goal which David has chosen for himself will not be reached without an effort; he must work and war who would win. Houses correspond to the hearts that live in them.
Stanza 2.—Court and City (5-8).
No man lives to himself. All around are people on whom our influence plays, and whose influence plays on us, so that the man who would maintain his integrity must carefully watch these outgoing and incoming influences. The king had the choosing of his courtiers, and there are four types which, he is resolved, shall hold no office, nor be part of his company: theslanderer, the haughty, the deceiver, and the liar (5, 7). So determined is he that his Court shall be pure that the workers of iniquity in the city he will destroy morning by morning (8, R.V.; Psa. 73:14). At no time can we root out evil once and for all; it must be dealt with daily. Weeds grow quickly, and the mower must not get weary of his scythe if the flowers are to be protected. But it is not enough to exclude what is wrong; we must include what is right. He who rejected the aforenamed received their opposites. The faithful were welcome to his home, and the blameless were given office in his Court (6).
This Psalm has been called “The Mirror for Magistrates,” and an excellent mirror it is; but it has also been called “The Householder’s Psalm,” and surely it is that also. True welfare will be experienced only when homes are pious and States are just.
Thought: To be powerful, purposes must be performed
It is related of Ernest the Pious, Duke of Saxe-Gotha, that he sent to an unfaithful official a copy of this Psalm, and it became a proverb in the land when any magistrate had done wrong, ‘He will certainly receive the Prince’s Psalm to read.’
The motto on ‘the Regent Mar’s building’ at Stirling was—
The moir I stand on oppin hitht
My favltis moir svbject are to sitht.
A Prayer of the afflicted, when he is overwhelmed, and poureth out his complaint before the Lord
Title: This Transient Life and the Abiding Lord
1 Hear my prayer, O Lord,
And let my cry come unto Thee.
2 Hide not Thy face from me
In the day when I am in trouble;
Incline Thine ear unto me:
In the day when I call answer me speedily.
3 For my days are consumed like smoke,
And my bones are burned as an hearth.
4 My heart is smitten, and withered like grass;
So that I forget to eat my bread.
5 By reason of the voice of my groaning
My bones cleave to my skin.
6 I am like a pelican of the wilderness:
I am like an owl of the desert.
7 I watch, and am as a sparrow alone upon the housetop.
8 Mine enemies reproach me all the day;
And they that are mad against me are sworn against me.
9 For I have eaten ashes like bread,
And mingled my drink with weeping,
10 Because of Thine indignation and Thy wrath:
For Thou hast lifted me up, and cast me down.
11 My days are like a shadow that declineth;
And I am withered like grass.
12 But Thou, O Lord, shalt endure for ever;
And Thy remembrance unto all generations.
13 Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion:
For the time to favour her,
Yea, the set time, is come.
14 For Thy servants take pleasure in her stones,
And favour the dust thereof.
15 So the heathen shall fear the name of the Lord,
And all the kings of the earth Thy glory.
16 When the Lord shall build up Zion,
He shall appear in His glory.
17 He will regard the prayer of the destitute,
And not despise their prayer.
18 This shall be written for the generation to come:
And the people which shall be created shall praise the Lord.
19 For He hath looked down from the height of His sanctuary;
From heaven did the Lord behold the earth;
20 To hear the groaning of the prisoner;
To loose those that are appointed to death;
21 To declare the name of the Lord in Zion,
And His praise in Jerusalem;
22 When the people are gathered together,
And the kingdoms, to serve the Lord.
23 He weakened my strength in the way;
He shortened my days.
24 I said,
“O my God, take me not away
In the midst of my days:
Thy years are throughout all generations.
25 Of old hast Thou laid the foundation of the earth:
And the heavens are the work of Thy hands.
26 They shall perish, but Thou shalt endure:
Yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment;
As a vesture shalt Thou change them,
And they shall be changed:
27 But Thou art the same,
And Thy years shall have no end.
28 The children of Thy servants shall continue,
And their seed shall be established before Thee.”
This is one of the seven ‘Penitential Psalms’ (6, 32, 38, 51, 130, 143), but of them all it is least deserving of this description, for it is the plaint of a sufferer rather than the penitence of a sinner. The heading perfectly indicates the scope of the Psalm; a soul afflicted and overwhelmed cries to God, not in a spirit of rebellion, but of strong confidence in the covenant Lord.
The first thing which must impress a careful reader is the peculiar structure of this Psalm. If verses 12-22 were eliminated the Psalm would remain a unity as the cry to God of a sorely tried soul, for verse 23 carries on quite naturally the sentiment of verse 11. The intervening verses are different, the personal element being entirely dropped.
Again, the Psalm is called a Prayer, and it is noteworthy that of the three parts which are addressed to God, two are the first and last portions, verses 1-11, and 23-28, which are entirely prayer, with the exception of verse 23. In the central section (12-22) only four of the eleven verses are addressed to God (12-15), and these are praise and not plaint.
In these verses the psalmist’s thought moves from what is personal to what is national, and from complaint to consolation. These verses are as a burst of sunshine in a very grey day, to be followed by more cloud, interpenetrated, it is true, with light (23-28).
The Psalm may be assigned to the closing years of the exile in Babylon, and its design was to encourage the Jews to return to Jerusalem and to rebuild it (12-17).
With these particulars in mind we can now analyse the Psalm.
- Personal, 1-11. A Prayer.
The Psalmist’s Complaint. Man’s Frailty.
- His Importunate Cry (1, 2).
- His Pathetic Condition (3-11).
- National, 12-22. A Pæan.
The Psalmist’s Consolation.
- The Near Prospect (12-17)
- The Far Prospect (18-22).
- Personal, 23-28. A Prayer.
The Psalmist’s Confidence. God’s Eternity.
- His Lingering Fear (23, 24a).
- His Steadying Faith (24b-28).
From this we see that there are three main divisions, the first and third being Personal, and the second, National; the first and third being Prayers, and the second, a Pæan; the first emphasizing Man’s Frailty, and the third, God’s Eternity. The shade and light of divisions one and two are mingled in division three, but the light preponderates.
It is noteworthy that in the Personal Prayers the Divine Name occurs only twice, at the beginning (1), Jehovah; and at the end (24), El; but in the national Paean it occurs seven times in the eleven verses, the first three and the last three being Jehovah, and the central one, Jah (18), where, for the first time in the Psalter, is found the combination of Hallel and Jah, Hallelujah, the characteristic call to worship in the post exilic Psalms.
- Personal. The Psalmist’s Complaint. A Prayer (1-11).
Here are first, the importunate cry, and then, the pathetic condition of the writer.
- The Psalmist’s Importunate Cry (1, 2).
Hear, let, hide not, incline, answer. These expressions are not new, and may be found in other Psalms (18:6; 39:12; 27:9; 59:16; 18:6; 31:2; 56:9; 69:17; 143:7), but one’s own anguish is always new. If you can best express your feelings in the language of some who have gone before you who have had your experience, why not?
But (when so sad thou canst not sadder)
Cry;—and upon thy so sore loss
Shall shine the traffic of Jacob’s ladder
Pitched betwixt Heaven and Charing Cross.
Yea, in the night, my Soul, my daughter,
Cry,—clinging Heaven by the hems;
And lo, Christ walking on the water,
Not of Gennesareth, but Thames.
- The Psalmist’s Pathetic Condition (3-11).
Mark the figures he employs to describe his sad state. Like smoke, as a firebrand (R.V.), like grass, like a pelican, like an owl, as a sparrow, like a shadow. When he does not forget to eat his bread (4) it tastes like ashes (9); his tears are mingled with his drink, and in addition to all this his enemies use his name in formulas of execration, they curse by me (8, R.V.). All this he attributes to his sin, and God’s consequent displeasure. God, he says, has taken me up, and flung me away (10). As this expression is used of the captivity of the nation (Jer. 7:15), perhaps the Psalmist is here identifying himself with his stricken people. In any case, his state is sad enough.
- National. The Psalmist’s Consolation. A Pæan (12-22).
Here the personal note is dropped, and the national takes its place. This is a Paean between two Prayers, and it is in two parts, the focus of one being near, and of the other, far.
- The Near Prospect (12-17).
The reference in these words can scarcely be misunderstood. Zion, the Holy City, is in ruins, but the prayers of those that love her are about to be answered. The tenses in verses 16, 17, R.V., are anticipative; the deliverance and reconstruction are viewed as accomplished, though actually they were not.
16 For the Lord hath built up Zion,
He hath appeared in His glory;
17 He hath regarded the prayer of the destitute,
And hath not despised their prayer (R.V.).
Hope runs ahead of the facts. Undoubtedly what is expected is the return from Babylonian Captivity, and the set time (13) refers to the end of the seventy years (Jer. 29:10; 30:18). But what is predicted in verse 15, did not happen when the Jews, in the time of Cyrus, returned to Judæa. For evidence of this read Ezra and Nehemiah. Are the promises then not to be fulfilled? Just here emerges
- The Far Prospect (18-22).
The glowing descriptions of the Evangelical Prophet (Isa. 40-66) were not fulfilled in the times of Zerubbabel. Ezra, Nehemiah, and the Maccabees, but they are not to be regarded as mocking rhetoric. What was written was for the generation to come, for the people which shall be created (18). Kirkpatrick well says, “Prophecy constantly combines in one view the nearer and the remoter future, depicting the eventual result, without indicating the steps by which it is to be reached.” And Maclaren says, “The singer was not wrong in believing that the coming of Jehovah in His glory for the rebuilding of Zion would sway the world to homage. His facts were right, but he did not know their perspective, nor could he understand how many weary years lay, like a deep gorge hidden from the eye of one who looks over a wide prospect, between the rebuilding of which he was thinking and that truer establishment of the city of God, which is again parted from the period of universal recognition of Jehovah’s glory by so many sad and stormy generations. But the vision is true. The coming of Jehovah in His Glory will be followed by a world’s recognition of its light.”
Between the nearer lower mountain and the further higher one in the prophetic landscape, is a long deep valley which was not seen by the prophetic eye. The mountains seemed to be one, but history has shown that there were two, and one of them lies still in the future.
III. Personal. The Psalmist’s Confidence. A Prayer (23-28).
- The Psalmist’s Lingering Fear (23, 24a).
The Psalmist strikes again the personal note of verses 1-11, but with a difference. There the gloom is unrelieved; his suffering and his sin are the mournful notes: but here, though still suffering and praying that he may be spared a premature death (23, 24a), his heart is at rest in the thought of God’s eternity.
The Psalmist has expressed his assurance that Zion shall be rebuilt (12-17), and that peoples and kingdoms shall yet serve the Lord (18-22); but he wants to live to see this accomplished. It is at this point that we see
- The Psalmist’s Steadying Faith (24b-28).
How sublime is the prayer which now arises from his comforted heart. Because God abides. His people shall continue (27, 28). Verses 25-27 are quoted in Heb. 1:10-12, from the Septuagint Version, and are applied to Christ. The Jehovah of the Old Testament is the Jesus of the New. Listen carefully to the music of these two Prayers (1-11; 23-28); the one is sad, but the other is glad; in the one the writer is occupied with himself, but in the other, with his God; the one is limited to time, but the other reaches out to eternity; in the first the Psalmist is in the slough, but in the other he is among the stars.
The range of this Psalm is from the individual to the world. It sinks and rises. It sighs and sings. It weeps and laughs. “The whole composition may be compared,” says Spurgeon, “to a day which, opening with wind and rain, clears up at noon and is warm with the sun, continues fine, with intervening showers, and finally closes with a brilliant sunset.”
Thought: All that concerns me matters to God
John Craig wrote a version of this Psalm. When a Dominican monk at Rome, he embraced the principles of the Reformation, was cast into the prison of the Inquisition, and was about to be led to the stake. The night before he was to suffer the Pope died, an insurrection broke out, the prisons were thrown open, and Craig escaped. He went to Scotland, and became a colleague of John Knox in St. Giles. No wonder he liked this Psalm, for it reflects his own experience.